Menopause Reality Check Part 1: An especially important time to focus on fitness
We’re doing it: We’re talking about menopause.
Though menopause looks different for many women—for some it’s a mild and quick experience, and for others its riddled with explosive hot flashes, headaches, irritability and mood swings—there are some common physiological results many women experience during (and in the aftermath of) menopause, including:
• Weight gain
• Loss of muscle mass
• Decrease in bone density (osteoporosis)
• Increase risk of depression
• Increase risk of heart disease
• Decrease in sex drive
While fitness won’t stop your ageing body from changing hormonally—and it likely won’t stop your ovaries from deciding they’re done with releasing an egg once a month—fitness can help you stave off many of the above common post-menopausal unwanted consequences.
And for those who are experiencing aggressive menopausal symptoms, there’s evidence that suggests exercise can even help relieve hot flashes and even regulate your mood (https://www.cnn.com/2016/01/27/health/menopause-hot-flashes-exercise/index.html).
How fitness helps combat some of the unwanted consequences:
Though there’s plenty of evidence suggesting the endorphins your body releases when you workout helps balance your mood, and go a long way in helping fend off depression, we think this goes beyond just endorphins.
From our experience, women going through this transitional phase of their lives often start feeling old. They view menopause as the right of passage into middle age or old age, and then they get caught in the trap of thinking their best days are behind them. They start thinking things like they’re too old to wear a bikini, too old to look sexy, and they also think they’re too old to train hard at the gym. For some it gets to the point that they think they’re too old to still live a great, fulfilling and happy life.
We have found for many in this age group, the gym becomes a place that helps them transform this attitude of being “too old.” Soon, they start feeling young again, often younger than they did 20 years ago. They start making unexpected fitness gains in their 50s and 60s even, which only helps them feel even younger and more vibrant. As a coach, there’s nothing better than watching a woman in her 50s get her first pull-up.
Muscle mass and bone density:
One of the reasons osteoporosis increases dramatically after a woman goes through menopause is because estrogen is needed to lay down bone. Strength training goes a long way in ensuring that just because your body’s estrogen production is coming to a halt, this doesn’t mean your bone density and muscle mass needs to slide along with your hormone levels.
As is the case for bone density, estrogen also has a positive affect on the heart—or on the inner layer of the artery wall, which helps keep the blood vessels flexible so they can stay relaxed and dilated and let blood flow easily. Essentially, women lose this natural “protection,” so to speak, during menopause when our estrogen levels decrease. On top of this, decreased estrogen goes hand-in-hand in an increase in the bad cholesterol and a decrease in the good cholesterol levels, another heart disease risk. In reality, female heart attacks increase significantly after menopause.
Thus, a good way to build more heart protection is through fitness. Not only is exercise proven to be good for physiological heart health, it’s also good in a less direct way: Through combatting depression. Women with a history of depression are at a greater risk of heart problems (it’s unclear why but it might be because of an increase in stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol when you’re depressed), so basically exercise helps the heart in more than just one way.
Low levels of estrogen can lead to increased fat storage, hence why many women gain weight during this time of their lives.
While exercise alone isn’t enough—it goes hand-in-hand with a good diet—staying active and fit can help keep your metabolism functioning more optimally to avoid gaining weight.
It makes sense that a decrease in hormones means a decrease in libido, and sometimes even vaginal dryness that makes sex painful. All of this means a decrease in sex drive.
Fitness can help this by helping prevent testosterone decline. On top of this, if your mood is better from working out, and you feel better because you look better, chances are you’ll be more confident and happy and will more likely to want to continue to have sex.
While there are plenty of other ways to keep yourself feeling good during menopause—from eating a healthy diet with lots of Vitamin D, to focusing on quality sleep, to various self-care practices—we believe fitness is an increasingly important piece of the puzzle as you age, and we’re here to help.
As cliche as it sounds, it’s never too late to begin. We have worked with many in the 50-plus crowd who have never stepped foot in a gym before. Contact us for more information about what the process will look like for you.